Hoopfest organizers will try to keep the fun in, the friction out this weekend.
Those in charge of Spokane’s three-on-three downtown basketball tournament are urging players and spectators to stay cool or face some consequences.
To the more than 14,000 players gathering Saturday and Sunday, the message is: “We’ll call fouls if you don’t.” Court monitors also will be ready to eject players who get unruly or lose composure during the heat of action.
Organizers also are reminding the 30,000 or so spectators and parents to enjoy the games but hold down the sideline adrenaline.
“We saw parents last year telling their young kids to foul other players,” said K.W. Knorr, the man in charge of more than 250 court officials during the street tournament.
Hoopfest has grown this year from 3,067 teams to 3,636, making it the largest of its kind in the country.
Knorr and others have spotted signs in recent years that Hoopfest is fast approaching the point where hard play can lead to violence.
“It’s not so bad yet, but we want to be pro-active and make sure we control things now, rather than let the cleanest event of its kind turn bad,” said Hoopfest Executive Director Rick Steltenpohl.
Similar events elsewhere have already gone through such problems.
The Gus Macker Tournament in Belding, Mich., used to be the largest three-on-three tourney in the nation. Then it suffered a string of infamous episodes, culminating with a chair-throwing brawl in 1993 that forced the tournament to end a day early.
When problems develop, participation decreases. Spokane Hoopfest organizers don’t relish seeing their brainchild suffer the same decline.
The controls adopted this year by Hoopfest - tougher rules to discourage intentional fouls and penalties against spectators who get too vocal - are nearly identical to measures the Macker organizers adopted the past two years.
“The more players you put on the streets, the more problems you might have,” said Mitch McNeal, president of Gus Macker Enterprises.
From organizing 75 street-ball tourneys each year, McNeal and others have spotted a basic social problem at three-on-three outdoor games: About 5 percent of those taking part - players and spectators - get out of control and act aggressive.
“It’s the nature of the game. It’s playground basketball. It’s different, less controlled than playing indoors. And people tend to get pretty competitive in these tournaments,” said McNeal.
Yes, it’s mostly men. “But not exclusively men,” McNeal said.
Hoopfest officials noticed instances last year that rang some alarms.
One parent of a young player berated and taunted a player from the opposing team during a game.
Another parent derided and confronted a court monitor during an adult section game.
In both cases, the court monitor managed to defuse the situation with the assistance of others.
This year, Knorr and Steltenpohl want monitors to take direct and swift action. If spectators get unruly, a monitor can award a free throw to the other team, plus possession of the ball.
In addition, each team must have a coach or “designated parent” wearing a tag during games. If troubles occur, the monitor can ask the coach or parent to solve the problem, said Knorr.
Fouls will be called more often in the younger age divisions (up through grade 8) and in the open division, where the most competitive players go head to head.
Divisions from grade 9 up and including all adults not competing in the open division will have monitors on hand, but players will still call their own fouls.
At every level of play, however, monitors will be quicker to step in and call intentional and flagrant fouls.
Intentional fouls, unlike last year, will give the fouled team a free throw plus possession of the ball. “That stops people like that parent who knew his kids’ opponents couldn’t make free throws,” said Knorr.
The same penalty will apply to flagrant fouls - unsportsmanlike conduct including roughness, abusive trash talk or insulting gestures.
“This year, they’ll call those flagrant fouls,” said Knorr. “We’re making a statement and saying some things aren’t acceptable.”
People involved in all five previous Hoopfests, like Knorr, have concluded it’s futile to police every infraction and eliminate the emotion of hard play.
“We’ve seen there’s a fine line between those who play unruly or reckless and those who are class acts,” he said.
“The ones who end up winning their divisions are usually always the class act players.
“The players who are the other - they never win or go very far. You can say they end up beating themselves.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: A guide to Spokane’s streets during Hoopfest ‘95
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Hoopfest: Getting ready, getting there Hoopfest weekend starts today with packet pickup and ends Sunday with handshakes and high-fives. In between, downtown will be abuzz with crowds watching games and looking for a cool glass of lemonade. Some general advice: Don’t expect to find parking anywhere near the downtown core, where more than 220 courts will host games Saturday and Sunday, starting at 8 a.m. Parking can be found at the Riverpark Square and Parkade lots, but getting to the two buildings will be harder than usual. Here is some Hoopfest information: Registration: Each team captain or representative can pick up team packets, T-shirts and game schedules at the Hoopfest park tents from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. The tent is in Riverfront Park next to the Joy of Running sculptures along Spokane Falls Boulevard. Buses: Spokane Transit Authority buses will be routed off Riverside to loading zones at Second and Howard and Third and Howard. The Coliseum trolley will run every 30 minutes Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and until 6 p.m. on Sunday. Weather: Both days will be mostly sunny. Temperatures Saturday will be in the mid- to high 80s, and slightly lower Sunday. Staying fit: Players should drink plenty of liquids ahead of time, eat and not overdress to avoid exhaustion. “Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink enough water,” suggested Dr. Hershel Zellman, who will watch his two children play during Hoopfest. Players should avoid caffeinated beverages like iced tea that end up leaving the body faster than water, he said. For both spectators and players alike, Zellman encourages using sun screen. “Put it on all exposed areas of the body, and even (under) a shirt if it’s a mesh type with holes in it,” he said. Volunteers will operate water stations and medical aid tents at various points throughout the Hoopfest area. For further information, call the Hoopfest office at 624-2414. - Tom Sowa